From walk-on to team captain: Reggie Peterson’s rise through FIU football

Senior linebacker Reggie Peterson assessing the offense before snap. Photo courtesy of FIU Athletics.

Will Duval | Sports Director

The numbers don’t lie, and those numbers are pretty flattering for senior linebacker Reggie Peterson. 

After starting in all 12 games last season, he accumulated 104 tackles, 53 solo tackles, 3.5 sacks and an interception. Notching career-highs in every statistical category, he also ranked second on the team in each one defensively.

But before he racked up successes on FIU’s football field, it took a lot of hard work and major sacrifices from his family to get him here. 

Peterson is entering his fifth season with the FIU football team and looking to be a leader. Measuring in at 6-2, 225-pounds, he used his size and skill at the position to make a substantial impact on the defense last season.

As a team, the Panthers finished their 2023 campaign with a 4-8 record and struggled to find consistency as a whole. Despite their inconsistencies, Peterson emerged as one of the team’s most reliable and energetic options.

However, Peterson’s path to becoming one of FIU’s leaders was a long one. In an interview with PantherNOW, he opened up about joining the team as a walk-on in the 2020 season and his journey up to this point.

Prior to his time with the Panthers, Peterson attended Centennial High School in Fort Pierce, Florida. While he was ranked a 3-star prospect by 247Sports, he claimed that he was under-recruited until he was entering his senior year.

Before the 2019 season began, he attended a football camp at North Carolina and showed off his skills by grabbing three interceptions. His performance jump-started his recruitment and earned him offers from multiple NCAA Division I schools.

In the third game of his senior season, Peterson suffered a broken wrist and had his future in jeopardy. The team wanted him to sit out for the remainder of the season, but he refused.

Unfazed by the circumstances, he opted to play the remainder of the season with a cast on his arm. Despite the hindrance, Peterson went on to have a career year and claimed to have accumulated over 105-tackles through the team’s last nine games.

While was coming off the best statistical season of his high school career, all of his offers were pulled due to the injury.

As Peterson was searching for walk-on opportunities, he received a text message from former assistant coach DJ McCarthy only two days before National Signing Day. 

McCarthy expressed that FIU had run out of scholarships to give but said that former head coach Butch Davis still wanted him on the team. Davis extended him a PWO (preferred walk-on) offer and gave Peterson an opportunity to make the team.

At the same time, his twin brother Randy was also a football player and had the opportunity to play football at the JUCO level. Despite the opportunity to continue playing football, he elected to quit so their mother could pay to send his brother to FIU.

With Randy having sacrificed his collegiate football career, Peterson enrolled in the school and joined the football team as a walk-on.

“The coaches didn’t know this, but my mom gave me one year to earn a scholarship. If I didn’t earn a scholarship within a year, I’d end up back home,” said Peterson.

Motivated by not only his mother’s ultimatum, but also his brother’s sacrifice, Peterson entered FIU with an entirely new mindset. He needed to make his presence on the team felt in a short amount of time.

“People were mad at me for standing out, for things like being 20 to 30-minutes early to a meeting or being the last one to leave practice,” he said.

Through his tenacious work ethic and dedication, Peterson caught the eye of coach Davis. Just before the team’s spring game in 2021, his efforts were rewarded and was granted a scholarship.

Nearly seven months after agreeing to his mother’s ultimatum, Peterson earned a scholarship in a shorter timespan than any walk-on in program history. 

When reflecting on his feelings at that moment, Peterson said: “it felt so amazing. I wasn’t doing it for myself, I was doing it all for my twin brother.”

“He loves football just as much as I do. The first year I played without him I earned a scholarship, that made me sick to my stomach,” he said.

Having secured his future with the Panthers, he continued to work and constantly reminded himself of the chip on his shoulder.

Over his four completed seasons with FIU, Peterson has totaled 138-tackles, 66-solo tackles, two interceptions, and 3.5-sacks over 37-games played. He has appeared in every game since the 2021 season and became a full-time starter in 2023.

Looking back at his time with the school, he said: “my overall experience has been great, I’ve met a lot of great people. All the way back to the 2020 team, they taught me everything I know and I see those guys in the stands.” 

“I appreciate them, everything they told me, I listened to. Now I’m in their shoes and teaching the same things to the young guys. A lot of amazing coaches as well that I will forever have relationships with,” he concluded.

Going into his senior season with the Panthers, Peterson looks to continue being a leader and build a culture around the team.

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